A Place to Grow: Opportunity Project

Opportunity Project is a nonprofit that provides services to the brain injured.

Lisa Goldman, Marc Berson and Rita Yohalem of Opportunity Project.
Lisa Goldman, Marc Berson and Rita Yohalem of Opportunity Project.
Photo by John Emerson

Every 21 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a traumatic brain injury. Despite the prevalence of TBI, funding for long-term recovery is nearly nonexistent.

To change this, Marc Berson, Rita Yohalem and Lisa Goldman co-founded Opportunity Project, a nonprofit focused on providing services to the brain injured.

Berson and Yohalem’s son, Gary, suffered a brain injury in a car accident in 1991 at the age of 19. The couple, now divorced, formed a bond with Goldman, whose son, Dan, was left brain-injured by a tumor in 1987 at the age of 13. At a loss for how to help their sons reintegrate into society and adjust to their disabilities, the three set out to improve the picture for their sons and others.

Working in their kitchens and at Berson’s Millburn real estate office, Yohalem and Goldman developed a program based on a successful concept called the Clubhouse Model. They built a team, began fundraising and achieved nonprofit status in 1993.

Over the past 20 years, Opportunity Project has provided services for more than 700 individuals and their families. It remains the only program of its kind in New Jersey.

The Opportunity Project clubhouse—within the group’s 14,000-square-foot Millburn facility—acts as a second home where those recovering from TBI can take part in social activities, attend classes (including yoga and cooking), and learn vocational skills in a work-oriented environment to achieve a heightened sense of self-esteem and self-sufficiency.

“The program really helps individuals to reach their potential, to find a quality of life,” Yohalem says.

The three founders head up the board of trustees, with Berson as chairman and Yohalem and Goldman as vice presidents. The nonprofit raises about $500,000 every year to support the facility and create endowments. Berson focuses on financial management and strategic planning; Yohalem and Goldman work on special projects and brain-injury awareness and prevention initiatives.

Carol Albanese, executive director of Opportunity Project for the past 16 years, expresses admiration for the founders, who have “gone through so much and through their own pain and struggles with their children…developed a program to help so many.”

Opportunity Project’s annual golf classic will take place September 28 at the Brooklake Country Club in Florham Park.

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